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Phoenix Suns, NBA invade Chicago for Draft Combine

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

PHOENIX — It’s not a new problem. It’s just that the list of absentees seemingly grows longer and longer every year.

Nearly 70 players are expected to attend the 2017 NBA Draft Combine, but some of the big-name talent is choosing to skip the week-long event in Chicago.

UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball won’t be there, neither will Florida State small forward Jonathan Isaac, Kansas small forward Josh Jackson, Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen, Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk nor North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

All have reportedly decided against participating, and all, it should be noted, are likely lottery picks.

It’s become a trend. For instance, 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons was a no-show last year, while two years earlier, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid — the top three picks in 2014 — all opted not to attend the pre-draft event.

“Obviously our preference would be for all of them to show up, I’m not sure if that’s realistic or not in this day in age,” Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough told ArizonaSports.com before leaving for Chicago. “I think the NBA and the Players Association realize it’s an issue that should be addressed. From what I’ve heard during the last round of collective bargaining negotiations it was discussed. If 30 teams are at the combine with their staffs you’d like to get access as many players as you can, hopefully all of them in an ideal world, and the way it’s setup, that’s not the case.”

And even those that do arrive in Chicago, like point guards Markelle Fultz of Washington and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, there’s no guarantee they will be full participants. Some will take part in five-on-five, full-court games as well as strength and agility drills and then bypass the medical testing. Others will do just the opposite and avoid any on-court activity.

Regardless, it’s up to McDonough, and the other general managers and scouts, to dissect all the information.

Beginning Wednesday and lasting through Friday, players will be on the court, scrimmaging and doing drills. Then over the weekend, the training staffs get their hands on the prospects.

The combine also affords teams the opportunity to speak to up to 18 pro hopefuls.

“For us, the players we bring in, we place a high importance on character and kind of the cultural fit with our group,” McDonough said, adding they do something “a little bit unique” during the 30 or so minutes they have with a player. “We ask the players if they have any questions for us. If there’s anything they want to know about us or the Suns. Give them an opportunity to speak up and kind of let us know what their thoughts are or what they’ve heard or what they know about our franchise.”

This is an important draft for the Suns as they continue to build towards a playoff return, hopefully sooner rather than later. It’s why McDonough puts such a premium on the face-to-face time they receive with players, many of whom they’ve only scouted on film.

“(Combine activities) all have different levels of importance, but I think for us, the interviews are the most important just because it’s something that we have not been able to do yet,” he said, “but after the combine, obviously, we’ll do a lot more of that in terms of flying players into Phoenix or even potentially going to visit them elsewhere and spend time with them one-on-one or group settings.”

FREE THROWS

• After the combine, the Suns will begin their own pre-draft process with the scheduling of prospect workouts, both individual and group; the latter of which is capped at six players per workout.

The Suns are likely to hold fewer workouts this year as they own just one first-round draft pick. In two of the last three years, the Suns had three first-round selections, allowing them to entice a wide range of players to Talking Stick Resort Arena.

In addition to a top-five pick, the Suns own a pair of second-round picks, Nos.32 and 54.

• For the second straight year, guard Devin Booker will represent the Suns at the NBA Draft Lottery on May 16.

The Suns have the second-best odds of landing the No.1 overall pick at 19.9 percent, though their best odds, at 31.9 percent, have them selecting fourth.

They will draft no lower than fifth as a result of finishing with the league’s second-worst record.

• Prior to the combine in Chicago, a two-day mini-camp was held featuring the top prospects of the NBA D-League. Three Northern Arizona Suns players — Askia Booker, Derek Cooke Jr. and Josh Gray — earned invites to participate

“It’s a credit to Coach Ellis and his staff for the job they did this year with NAZ as we try to build up that program,” McDonough said.

This marked Booker’s second consecutive D-League Elite Mini Camp appearance.

Follow Craig Grialou on Twitter

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